Jerusalem: A view from the veranda of the David Citadel hotel - opinion

Even those without titles or fame are in for a good time: The motto of the hotel proclaims that the David Citadel is designed to make everyone feel like royalty.

 POOLSIDE AT the David Citadel.  (photo credit: DAVID CITADEL)
POOLSIDE AT the David Citadel.
(photo credit: DAVID CITADEL)

Jerusalem, with its dense history of kings and conquests, and the daily drama of religious rivalry, might not immediately spring to mind when dreaming of a relaxing few days away. There’s no city beach.

But think again. The David Citadel luxury hotel waits right there at the epicenter of the world, and if it was good enough for Bill Clinton, Condoleezza Rice and big shots from Google and Alibaba, I guessed it was a safe bet for my family and me.

Celebs rest their heads in one of the elegant 41 suites of the hotel, but even the simpler, smaller, superior family rooms are not too shabby. All accommodations come with a fancy coffee machine, Bulgari treats in a spacious bathroom and a wonderfully comfortable bed in which you could sleep for 10 hours straight, if you don’t have kids ready to rumble at the crack of dawn.

But what a lovely spot from which to greet the day.

The hotel’s hand-hewn local stone exteriors spill into the public spaces – the spacious ballroom, Veranda terrace restaurant, the lobby – but it is the location of this Moshe Safdie creation that is truly magical. The David Citadel is across the road from David’s Tower, currently undergoing renovation after a cool 2,500 years of existence.

The ancient walls surrounding the Old City of Jerusalem shout out greetings to the stone structure around the hotel pool; happy families can float in the sparkling water while watching the ramparts that were patrolled, protected and sometimes overrun in centuries past.

 VERANDA EXTRAVAGANZA goodies. (credit: DAVID CITADEL) VERANDA EXTRAVAGANZA goodies. (credit: DAVID CITADEL)

Visitors to the city, fortified with freshly squeezed juices, omelets, fluffy pancakes and other traditional Israeli breakfast fare, can take time out from a busy schedule of lounging by the pool, pounding a treadmill in the fully equipped gym or having a healing spa massage and cross the road to have a quick pray at the Kotel, Church of the Holy Sepulcher or Dome of the Rock, as the case may be. The Old City is literally on the doorstep, with its myriad of churches, mosques and synagogues, the Burnt House, the Cardo shopping mall, under-the-Temple tunnels, an Arab market, coffee shops, restaurants and hummus joints. Adjacent to the hotel, the boutiques and bars/restaurants of modern Mamilla Mall beckon; the new city center is a five-minute walk away.

It’s unlikely, though, that guests of the Citadel will find much room for even a taste of the colorful culinary delights of the city; they will certainly still be digesting the goodies on offer at their hotel.

The rolling sunrise breakfast buffet on the terrace morphs at dusk into the Veranda fine dining extravaganza; Chef Kfir Misnikov has created a symphony of mmm, mmm, mmm meats that are smoked, broiled or slow cooked under the strict shmita lechumra kashrut approved by Rav Rubin and Rav Landa. Don’t miss the smoked Asado in a salty croissant smothered in also smoked pepper aioli, chimichurri, crispy leek and more.

Then there’s the lamb shoulder, soaked in citrus brine for 48 hours and smoked in apple tree charcoal for an extra day, served with tomato chutney and other luscious accoutrements. With, of course, some smoked potato puree topped with caramelized onion and porcini mushroom stock.

Stretch your stomach cells for some sinfully splendorous desserts, served as the sky grows dusky while the legendary walls glow below. Diets can always start tomorrow.

AS THE adults feast, children can spend their happy hours playing football on a child-sized pitch or swinging from hoops in the new Jerusalem-themed playroom, with its wooden Mishkanot She’ananim windmill mock-up and a mini-Mahaneh Yehuda, complete with cash registers, shopping baskets, and plastic fruits and vegetables. Pint-sized chefs carry their produce to miniature kitchens stocked with pots and pans and ovens; watch the only-in-Israel interactions as haredi youngsters with long ear locks explain to secular peers in shorts that they’re putting meat dishes into milk sinks. “Mah?” asks a confused child, eyeing her plastic dish of toy grapes with concern. “Ken, ken!” affirms her ultra-Orthodox companion. “That plate is basari (meaty).”

It’s a cute encounter, and it ends happily; the kids sort out their kashrut concerns and settle down to eat their cooked strawberries and carrots together, seated atop wooden Jerusalem lions. Sentimentalists sigh that this is a microcosm of the live-and-let-live philosophy of the city itself, and the hotel certainly backs up that claim. The super-friendly staff – managers, administrators, waiters, cleaners, pool people, everyone – are courteous, helpful and polite. The atmosphere in the quiet calm of the lobby and the lounges is of adults coping, despite the chaos of the world outside. The dream team encapsulates a fervent broader hope that the whole country can be as inclusive as the employees of the Citadel, where religious and secular Jews, Muslims and Christians work together harmoniously to pamper demanding guests. It’s a far cry from what happens a hop, skip and jump away, where the Temple Mount glares down at the Kotel, while the adjacent Robinson Arch braces for the next haredi onslaught on a women’s minyan or a boy praying at his bar mitzvah.

It’s all very complicated when the gods get involved.

But from the modern Citadel, the view is simply breathtaking and stunningly romantic; many are the marriage proposals lovingly accepted on a private balcony. The happy couple can then get married in the lavish ballroom below, and the adjacent synagogue is perfect for the Shabbat chatan. Of course, the guests can all stay in situ – the hotel has 385 gorgeous rooms and suites. If the lucky couple has a fairy godmother, they can spend their wedding night in one of the seven signature suites, though their patron would need to cough up more than $5,000 (NIS 17,000) for the privilege.

Not only weddings are celebrated in the ballroom, of course. For example, once a year, the festive space is transformed into a fairyland garden, as the Baha’i bus in trees and flowering plants for their annual Naw-Rúz New Year bash. Kim Kardashian brought her whole family to the hotel when she baptized her daughter in an Armenian church across the road; Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also an honored guest. But even those without titles or fame are in for a good time: The motto of the hotel proclaims that the David Citadel is designed to make everyone feel like royalty.

What a difference a few days in the City of David can make. Watch the city sparkle like gold in the morning and turn amethyst in the twilight as you sip your coffee or champagne; it’s better than the beach. From this vantage point, it’s easy to believe that despite global warming, despite the war in Ukraine, despite scary elections, yet again, and despite it all, life still seems very, very nice. 

The writer lectures at Reichman University and Beit Berl. [email protected]